Gaspar Noé’s filmography has earned him a reputation as one of modern cinema’s true provocateurs, for better or worse. His films have garnered both praise and controversy for their blend of graphic violence, lurid sleaze and stunningly well-crafted visual elements. It’s somewhat surprising then that his new film Love, which has been envisioned and marketed as a ‘3D sex film’, doesn’t make for a very compelling viewing experience.
Newcomer Karl Glusman plays Murphy, a 20-something American studying filmmaking in Paris. In the film’s opening scenes, we witness him moping around his flat while tending to his young son while an inner monologue allows us into his thoughts. The film’s non-linear plot is largely told through flashbacks, in which we learn that Murphy was once partner to Electra (Aomi Muyock); an emotionally volatile artist with whom he shared an intense relationship. Both the breakup of that relationship and the birth of the child are the consequences of Murphy’s infidelity with their neighbour Omi (Klara Kristin), with whom he now begrudgingly co-habits in an apparently loveless marriage.
The narrative from then on consists of scenes of Murphy and Electra at various stages in their relationship. This is at times tender and playful, at others fraught and bitter and there doesn’t seem to be a chronological or otherwise logical order to proceedings. At least half of these vignettes develop into the very long, very real sex scenes about which so much has been made in the film’s publicity. The film as a whole is artfully shot, but lacks any of the dazzling visual panache of Noé's last film Enter the Void or the inventive narrative tricks of Irreversible. In fact on a technical level, Love plays out as a much more conventional affair than may have been expected. Many of the familiar Noé tropes appear here; bold text bearing stark messages for the audience, strobing lights, a fondness for symmetrical framing, heavily stylised coloured lighting and an almost giddy focus on the carnal. The oddly rudimentary editing style though (with frequent half-seconds of black between shots), sometimes gives the explicit scenes the air of an extremely raunchy music video, which seems contradictory to the stated intention of portraying sex in as real a manner as possible.
The performances are for the most part unconvincing, and matters aren't helped by a script littered with inane dialogue. Much of this consists of the sort of cod-philosophy which made parts of Enter The Void somewhat hard to stomach and it often comes across as incredibly self-indulgent, especially given the lengthy running time. More self-indulgent however are the innumerable references to himself and his work that Noé has shoehorned into the film. The extent to which Love is autobiographical is hard to fathom, but throughout there are multitude of winks in the audience’s direction. For starters, Murphy’s student digs are adorned with a poster for Salo and at one point he makes gushing reference to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; both movies that the director has very vocally been a fan of. Add to this the fact that the ‘love hotel’ prop miniature from Enter the Void sits in clear view in Murphy and Omi’s parental bedroom at the film’s opening. Both of which are fairly subtle ‘easter egg’ type references, which are likely to only mean something to those familiar with the director’s work. However, the film eventually becomes so chock-full of such meta-references that eventually what was at first quite charming soon descends into self-indulgent tedium. Maybe the most egregious example of this is when Noé himself appears as Electra’s ex-boyfriend; a successful art dealer - called Noé no less - with whom Murphy takes an instant dislike. Even Murphy’s infant son is named Gaspar.
The soundtrack is one area in which the film excels. A selection of Erik Satie’s best known piano works provide an appropriately melancholic musical backing, as does the plangent instrumental section of Pink Floyd’s ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’. Praise is also due to Benoît Debie’s cinematography. Ironically given the film’s ethos though, it’s mostly in the scenes of dialogue (rather than the sex scenes) that his work shines.
Perhaps the biggest of Love’s flaws concerns the premise itself. The notion of the sentimental and romantic facets of sex about which Noé made a great deal in the run-up to the film’s release, seems underdeveloped and Murphy’s apparent love for Electra isn’t really explored to any meaningful extent. Beyond the endless (and rather repetitive) sexual encounters, nothing much takes place between them apart from an occasional screaming row and we’re never given many - if any - reasons to be invested in these characters. Ultimately, neither they nor their various predicaments prove to be very interesting and the film’s 135 minutes seem to take an eternity to elapse.
The film is presented in 2.38:1 with a 1080p transfer, and looks fantastic. There is a pristine clarity to the image and depth to the colours. Lacking a 3D-compatible TV I’m unable to comment on the stereoscopic qualities of the film.
There is only a 5.1 surround sound audio mix available on the Blu-ray, with no 2.0 stereo option available. The sound mix sounded perfectly serviceable through my 2.0 setup, however it would have been nice to have a 2.0 option.
There are no extras on the Artificial Eye Blu-ray release of Love. This is likely to be due to the data capacity of the disc, since it holds two versions of the film (2D and 3D).